The Panther Ridge Conservation Center in Loxahatchee Groves recently welcomed its newest exotic cat to the sanctuary, a tiny caracal cub who is striking with his pointed ears and inquisitive eyes.
This little cub may be less than three months old, but he has already captured the hearts of staff and is now waiting patiently for a new name to be inspired by the input of the public.
“Caracals are a fascinating small species of wild cat found throughout Africa and into the Middle East. Our new caracal kitten will be a wonderful ambassador for his species, shedding light on the numerous threats that his wild cousins face on a daily basis,” head keeper Sadie Ryan said. “As part of our mission, Panther Ridge is dedicated to educating the public on the issues these wild cats face in order to survive.”
While Panther Ridge may not be the largest facility in Palm Beach County with big and exotic cats, they do have one of the most diverse collections, which includes rare and endangered species such as clouded leopards, cheetahs and the elusive fishing cat.
“We like to present a wide diversity of species at Panther Ridge. Caracals are unique in that they can withstand the heat of the Sahara Desert and their range goes all the way up to the ice and snow of northern Afghanistan,” said Judy Berens, founder and president of Panther Ridge. “I really like the small cats; the small ones never get their due. People always write about lions and tigers. In comparison, rarely do they even do scientific research on small cats.”
A special opportunity is currently being offered to the public — a chance to win a raffle with the prize of meeting the new kitten and awarding him with a name. The raffle drawing will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26 at 4 p.m.
With the underrepresentation of many exotic cats in facilities like Panther Ridge, the public does not have the same opportunities to learn about these scarce and unique animals that are very important to the ecosystem.
Recently, Panther Ridge welcomed two male cheetah cubs, who were also named by the public.
“The cheetah cubs are doing great and growing like weeds! Kendi and Nyambe are about 10 months old and taking part in their daily ambassador training, inspiring our guests to care about cheetah conservation,” Ryan said. “We do offer cheetah walks with our two boys.”
The fishing cat is a small but special species. Recently, resident male Minnow was introduced to a female named Angel. Angel is on loan temporarily from another facility and is far less shy than her male counterpart.
“Angel is out for the tours all the time,” Berens said. “She is half Minnow’s size, but if he tries to steal her food, she will give him a good smack!”
Another happy pair on site are the two jaguars that were introduced to each other several months ago.
“The jaguar pair are doing well, and we are trying to raise money to build them a permanent in-ground pool. Jaguars are the best swimmers in the cat family,” Berens noted.
Patrons can see these amazing creatures in person through small, guided tours and special events.
“Panther Ridge is offering daily guided tours at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. for a maximum of 10 people per tour. Facial masks are required for the tours, and we do expect guests to maintain social distance at all times,” Ryan said. “We will be starting up our Twilight Hours soon. The first one will be scheduled for Halloween (Oct. 31).”
Many organizations were required to close their doors due to the pandemic, and Panther Ridge was no exception. While they were not open to the public until May, Panther Ridge continued to bring in staff daily to care for the animals.
“Because we have suffered so from the pandemic, any donations are greatly appreciated. Even though our doors were closed for months, the cats had to eat every day, and we kept our staff on. We kept everybody in place,” Berens said.
For those not ready to visit in person, there are other ways to support the work and well-being of these amazing creatures.
“As a nonprofit facility, Panther Ridge has been struggling like many others,” Ryan said. “The most helpful thing for us would be monetary donations or items from our wishlist to help feed all the hungry mouths we have.”
Panther Ridge, located at 2143 D Road in Loxahatchee Groves, is open to all ages, and tours are available by reservation seven days a week. Call (561) 795-8914 or visit www.pantherridge.org for more information on programs and the raffle to name the caracal kitten.